The Line

The line stretched on not forever but a long way. When we reached a certain age or a certain place in life where we decided it was time to stand we made the exodus to the line. The first trick was to determine which direction the line was headed, which was harder than you’d think because the line, having gotten so long, had become complicated, with branches and breaks and mobs. You could ask people in the line but they only knew about where they were in the line, and then you’d walk towards the back, and see people facing the other direction saying no the line went this way, go back there. Then we had to walk back, facing the people who’d told us the other way, looking at them knowing that walking this way meant we didn’t believe them. 

Eventually a pattern emerged and we even got to the back of the line.  Or a line, at least. There were many, but we had to be sure we stood in an official end of the line, lest we be judged as cutters.

“No cutters! No Backsies!” Many people had signs and T-shirts. In fact, there was a moving cottage industry of merchants selling such shirts and signs, along with bottled water and snacks. Occasionally a great buffet would appear, and we would stand in line for mixed fruits, cubes of cheese and tiny muffins. Even at the buffet some people would be going the wrong way.

I was surprised when I had my first encounter with a cutter. “Excuse me, is this the line?” A pretty, blank faced girl, blond with braided pony tails.

“Yes. This is the line.”

“Oh.” Then she stood there, as if unsure where to go, looking around. She stood outside the line, wandering slightly. I noticed as the line progressed that she was moving along with us, as if she were being swept along by the motion of the crowd.

A man behind me poked me. “She’s cutting. You can’t let people cut.”

I said nothing, but other people joined in and confronted her directly, and she became defensive and exasperated. She stomped off, further up the line. I saw her days later, on the side of the road, hung from a tree. “Cutter” was written on her blouse in blood.

People played  the telephone game, passing phrases up and down the line. “The magpie sings the donkey song ghost,” someone told me, laughing at how what had once been intelligible was now nonsense. Not knowing the original message, I got no mirth from it. I passed it on.

Money passed up and down the line, and other economies. Information too. What were we standing in line for? The King. Money. Our final reward. A family. It was a wedding. It was a wake. Some thought the buffets were the final destination, but they rarely seemed worth the wait. Some said these were just the warm up for a cornucopian delight, a huge sprawling buffet the likes of which we’d never seen.

Some forsook the line. “What’s the point?” The left, and you’d see them on the side of the road, moaning and wailing. They rarely left sight of the line. They were already too far down the line to be familiar with the countryside they were in. Some became merchants. Some became cutters.

At one point we came down to the beach. The line branched yet again, and some went off into the sea. I went with the land bound part of the line. Many times the lines diverged, only to meet up again, down the way, but I felt there was something final about not going into the sea.

We’re standing in a line. We don’t know how much longer we’ve got to stand, how far away the receiving is, but we’re getting closer.

–Dan Kilian
Charlotte Rampling
A Metaphor For Iraq


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